Iris has two degrees in Japanese studies and works as a professional artist. She admires lesser known artists who overcome big challenges.
What's Special About Kotobuki Shiro?
I always thought he was a stunning artist, because he could draw amazing portraits but didn't have any of the tools that we do: he couldn't use his hands.
You might have heard (or said yourself) "I can't even draw a straight line!" or "I can't even draw a stick figure!". Kotobuki did it all without hands.
After a motorcycle accident, Kotobuki Shiro became paraplegic. He couldn't use his arms, hands, legs or feet.
Even with his whole body paralyzed, Kotobuki lived a career as a professional artist.
Paraplegic people still can get around, for example in a motorized wheelchair that is steered by a joystick that they can push with their lips.
Even though he was paraplegic and struggling so much, he developed his drawing skills and became a great artist with a fanbase. That amazes me too: he couldn't even draw before his accident, he learned all of it while already disabled.
How does he draw when paralyzed?
When paralyzed from the neck down, your mouth becomes your most versatile tool. That's what Kotobuki Shiro did: while rehabilitating, he learned to control a pen with his mouth. He started painting digitally and drawing cute anime/manga girls.
His physical therapist actually gave him a magazine called "Weekly Playboy" (週間プレーボーイ) so he could draw the girls from it and that's how Kotobuki Shiro started drawing pretty girls.
As a pen, he used a digital stylus with a drawing tablet. You can compare this drawing method with using a touch stylus on an iPad, but the tablet and the screen are separated. So he had to look at the screen and know from experience where he was drawing the lines with his mouth!
The pen was attached to wooden tools with some tape, so he could comfortable reach the drawing tablet. You can view his drawing process in the video below:
Here's a video of his painting progress (in Japanese, no subtitles available)
Because of his handicap, the process is slow and arduous but the result is stunning!
A Quick Overview of His Career
Kotobuki wasn't known outside of Japan until he designed characters for a video game in 2004. He also worked on the same game for its second release in 2006 ("Rumble Roses" and "Rumble Roses XX").
Besides being known for working on the character design for that video game, he worked on posters and had expositions.
His Artist Pseudonym & His Real Name
Kotobuki Shiro is the name he used to sign his artwork. His real name is Hiroshi Kobayashi.
It's very common in Japan to use a pen name as an artist. Kotobuki freely associated his real name and his pen name, for example posting the same artwork publicly on his official Facebook page and his personal Facebook page. So it's not a matter of just wanting anonymity. The use of art pseudonyms is a long standing tradition!
I used his pseudonym in this article because I wanted to focus on his achievements in art, and when it came to talking about his art, he always used his artist name Kotobuki Shiro.
Kotobuki Shiro Passed Away In 2016.
Kotobuki Shiro died at age 47 in 2016. One of his nephews posted the announcement on his Facebook. There was one last update from the family after the funeral, and after that there's only been silence.
His website and official Facebook page still show his latest work, posted just one month before his sudden death. The post ends with a cheerful "today onwards!". It makes me sad to read that, just a fun picture of an anime girl together with a sweet message, and that was the end for his art career.
Inspirational & Not The Only Paraplegic Artist
After I discovered Kotobuki Shiro, I found out about many more paraplegic artists.
I work professionally as an artist without any physical limitations, and yet all of them make better artwork than I do! It's inspiring and a testament to the spirit and resilience of humans.
Here are some other paraplegic artists:
Marcus Thomas (youtube link)
Michael Monaco (youtube link)